Empire of Liberty

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The Empire of Liberty as conceived by Thomas Jefferson refers to America's role of spreading freedom throughout the world. The French Revolutionaries had a similar term, which likewise had America as an important crux to their view, although theirs was more closer to Communism.[1]

America was founded, settled and fashioned by the British Empire, but then broke away in the American Revolution, declaring independence in 1776 in the name of republicanism.

Thomas Jefferson saw America's mission as creating a global "Empire of Liberty"—that is promoting freedom and liberty around the globe by example, by expansion, and by intervention. Major exponents included Abraham Lincoln (in the Gettysburg Address of 1863), Woodrow Wilson and "Wilsonianism", and George W. Bush in the drive for liberty and democracy around the world.

In American diplomatic history the Empire of Liberty has meant opposition to tyranny and totalitarianism, especially in the Spanish American War (1898), World War I, World War II, the Cold War and the War on terrorism.
Columbia (the American people) reaches out to help oppressed Cuba in 1897 while Uncle Sam (the US Government) is blind. Judge magazine, Feb. 6, 1897

The somewhat derogatory term American Empire, meaning the United States and territories which it controls or influences, is often used to criticize the global influence of the United States and its political principles by implying that America has been engaged in a self-centered type of Imperialism. This is based on the assumption that imperialism, or even a hypothetical scenario where the US controlled the world, is bad.

Monroe Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine was designed to make the New World safe for liberty and republicanism and block the further expansion of European imperialism. The Doctrine was articulated in 1820 by President James Monroe and was designed by his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams (two foremost conservatives). It put the western hemisphere off limits to European expansion. It was used to stop the threatened takeover of Mexico by France (1860s) and Imperial Germany (see Zimmerman Telegram 1917). After 1960 the Doctrine was used to fight the spread of Communism from its base in Casto's Cuba. Ronald Reagan, for example, made it a high priority to rollback Communism in Nicaragua, Grenada.

Conservative Internationalism

Conservative Henry Nau has argued that conservative internationalism is the foreign policy of Thomas Jefferson, James K. Polk, Harry Truman, and Ronald Reagan. They did more to expand freedom abroad through the assertive use of military force than any others.[2] They expanded freedom on behalf of self-government, local or national, not on behalf of central or international government, as liberal internationalists advocate, and they used force to seize related opportunities to spread freedom, not to maintain the status quo, as realists recommend.

Bacevich (2004) argues that America has been committed to building an empire by design, not accident. He argues that the recent foreign policy has accepted an American mission as the guardian of history, responsible for changing the world by making it more open and more integrated. American global leadership means maintaining preeminence in the world's strategically significant regions, together with permanent global military supremacy.

President Barack Obama in his 2009 Nobel Prize Address specifically rejected the liberal nonviolence policies of Martin Luther King, and proclaimed America has a duty to lead the fight against evil in the world, starting with the Afghanistan War. His conservative arguments stunned his liberal supporters.


Jefferson used this phrase as early as 1780 as he sought to create an American Empire dedicated to liberty; it would block the growth of the British Empire, which he hated and feared:

"We shall divert through our own Country a branch of commerce which the European States have thought worthy of the most important struggles and sacrifices, and in the event of peace [ending the American Revolution]...we shall form to the American union a barrier against the dangerous extension of the British Province of Canada and add to the Empire of liberty an extensive and fertile Country thereby converting dangerous Enemies into valuable friends." - Jefferson to George Rogers Clark, 25 December 1780[3]

A few weeks after leaving the White House in 1809 he told his successor James Madison:

"we should then have only to include the North [Canada] in our confederacy...and we should have such an empire for liberty as she has never surveyed since the creation: & I am persuaded no constitution was ever before so well calculated as ours for extensive empire & self government." - Jefferson to James Madison, 27 April 1809

Other dimensions

Economic dimensions include the spread of American management, as for example in the Marshall Plan in the 1940s. Poor management was a major factor in the slow recovery of Europe after World War II, and American management principles were often implemented as an essential part of Marshall Plan aid. The American School of Management was set up in Paris specifically to propagate these principles.

Cultural dimensions of the American Empire include the spread of American music and movies—and even more important the spread of Christian values by missionaries.

Leftist and Secular bashing of "Empire"

Anti-American forces in the Third World often capitalized on local hatred of oppressive empires by using the label American Empire in a negative sense. On the far left in the U.S. it is also a hostile theme, as represented by Noam Chomsky and Chalmers Johnson. Their argument is that America represents the evils of capitalism and religion and should be stopped from influencing the people of the world.

See also

Further reading

  • Bacevich, Andrew J. American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy (2004) by a conservative political scientist excerpt and text search
  • Ferguson, Niall. Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire (2005), by an eminent conservative historian except and text search
  • Gordon, John Steele . Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power (2005) by a conservative popular historian excerpt and text search
  • Kagan, Robert. Dangerous Nation: America's Place in the World from Its Earliest Days to the Dawn of the Twentieth Century (2006), by a conservative
  • Nau, Henry R. "Conservative Internationalism," Policy Review #150. 2008. pp 3+. by a conservative online at Questia
  • Tucker, Robert W., and David C. Hendrickson. Empire of Liberty: The Statecraft of Thomas Jefferson (1990).
  • Wood, Gordon. Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (2009) by conservative historian excerpt and text search


  1. http://www.whatwouldthefoundersthink.com/the-french-revolution-and-communism
  2. At home, Abraham Lincoln was even more aggressive in expanding freedom by the forceful abolition of slavery.
  3. See online source